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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

June 16, 2010 at 2:14 PM

E3: Hands on (off?) Xbox Kinect, first impressions

LOS ANGELES — (A quick take on Kinect that ran in today’s paper …)

Microsoft’s Kinect system is fun and sometimes remarkable to use.

There was at least one truly magical moment during my rapid sample of a handful of games played with the motion controller, Microsoft’s next big hope for its Xbox platform.

But the basic controls of the system – for starting games and selecting options – take a little getting used to and are more sensitive than I expected.

Microsoft’s cautious approach with the system – showing only relatively simple games – also leaves the feeling that the technology is still being refined. It will be awhile before a roomful of players leaps in to play a complicated game together without controllers.

The basic Kinect control gesture actually has no motion.

To press an on-screen button – the equivalent of a mouse click or controller-button press – you move the cursor by pointing and hovering over an on-screen target. You have to hover for a few seconds – maybe three to five – to activate the command.

Hovering confirms intent, but it adds a pause to the normal flow of using a game system or computer. I’m curious to see if this extra beat seems less obvious after using the system for a while.

Playing “Joy Ride,” a cart-racing game, I found the controls take getting used to, playing without hardware to offer resistance to motion, holding up a pretend steering wheel and leaning side to side into corners.

Or maybe it’s just because I’m so uncoordinated.

Driving a Ferrari in a preview of “Forza” for the Kinect was more like driving a car with an invisible steering wheel, but the game seems as if it’s going to end up getting a pretend steering wheel to hold in front of the sensors.

Microsoft’s making a big deal out of Forza’s “showroom” feature, which lets you approach a car and zoom into details, as if you’re examining it in real life. Extreme car enthusiasts may like this, but it seems Microsoft’s bigger objective may be to help automakers advertise and sell cars digitally.

A bowling game was also more precise than expected, to the point that I threw a few balls into adjacent lanes. It felt a few degrees more sensitive to wrist position and arm motion than Wii bowling.

It also requires a bit more care; if you throw the ball upward, it momentarily shatters the lane when it lands.

The game that’s worth the price of admission, if you have small kids, is “Kinectimals.” The virtual pet game comes with 40 species of feline, five of which are unlocked when you begin playing.

Microsoft also will sell plush animals that unlock virtual counterparts when you open the tag and hold a bar code up to the Kinect.

Microsoft is coming after Sony and Nintendo, which are both releasing new versions of their hit pet games, including a 3-D version for Nintendo’s upcoming 3-D DS. But it seems to be lapping them, and leaving the Webkins online-offline doll franchise in the dust.

The tiger, cheetah and puma cubs in “Kinectimals” approach the screen and lick it when you begin playing. You wave your hand side to side to wipe off the screen, clearing the fog and drool, then reach out to pet and tickle the realistic animals. Developers used recordings of real animals for the purring sounds that ensue.

The pets mimic your gestures, so if you spin around, they spin as if chasing their tail. You can roll on the floor, hold your hands up like you’re begging and hop up to get the cats up onto their hind legs.

Guiding the pets through an obstacle course was trickier, requiring hands to be extended when balancing across a wobbly log, and carefully timed jumps over hurdles.

But kids attracted to the game will no doubt spend whatever time is needed to unlock additional animals in the game. It’s irresistible, until you start adding up the cost of the game, the stuffed animals, the Kinect and the Xbox itself.

Comments | Topics: games, kinect, Microsoft

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